If you watched Rally Mexico over the weekend, you will know Kris Meeke as the lunatic that lost control of his Citroen C3 in the final minutes of the last stage and ended up in a spectator car park. Importantly Meeke was just 750 meters away from a fourth World Rally Championship win and had just seconds to perform the perfect U-turn and get back on to the stage before crossing the crucial finish line. He did so in spectacular fashion, securing the fourth win of his WRC career and his first of 2017, as the rest of the world picked our jaws up off the floor after witnessing one of the most sensational finishes to a rally. Ever.
With 76 starts to his name Meeke, and his co-driver Paul Nagle, have all the right ingredients to win the championship this year. After Citroen spent a sabbatical year engineering a phenomenal car, in addition to Meeke’s experience, speed and agility, this is the first season in Meeke’s WRC career where he has been gifted a car that could see him win the drivers’ championship – the first Britain to do so since the late Richard Burns in 2001.
I have had my doubts about Kris Meeke in the past. For me, it felt he had this unfortunate ability to ruin his chances of stage wins, podiums and points when the pressure was loaded on to his shoulders. Only the rally before in Sweden, the Briton had been running in fifth place before he lost control of his Citroen over a crest and dropped back on the timesheets – eventually finishing Rally Sweden out of the points in 12th place.
However despite his hiccups, his potential as a rally driver is huge. His mentor in his early years could well have a large part to play in this, none other than WRC icon Colin McRae. Having been linked with McRae since 2002, including a stint where he lived with the late World Rally Champion and his family, their relationship first began when Meeke was selected to be a part of the McRae Scholarship as a protégé but this relationship between the two soon turned into a close friendship. “Colin was more than a mentor as far as my career was concerned,” Meeke said in a statement about McRae’s tragic death in 2007.
With his shocking Mexico finale being somewhat mirroring a move we might have expected from McRae, his performance from the whole weekend remained dominant having lead the rally from SS4 until the chequered flag at the SS19 Power Stage. Going into the final stage, Meeke had an impressive 37 second lead with a 21.94km left to run, with M-Sport’s Sebastian Ogier situated in second place; although a rare spin from Ogier earlier on the Sunday did hand Meeke an even larger advantage. No one could get close to Meeke. This was also the first rally of the season that is gravel based, a compound he excels on.
Just three races into the WRC calendar, there are so many more opportunities for Meeke to score vital wins and podiums especially in Argentina which will play host to the championship next month. This is the rally which handed Meeke and Nagle their maiden WRC win back in 2015 and made the duo the first British drivers to win a WRC rally in 13 years since the late Colin McRae won in Kenya in 2002.
Also a gravel based rally, Argentina brings with it both sandy gravel tracks and rocky roads and is a rally that has favoured an underdog the past few years – Hyundai’s Hayden Paddon taking his first WRC win there last year.
Despite Meeke only completing a half-season of WRC in 2016, he still managed to secure another two championship wins in Portugal and Finland; the latter being the fastest WRC rally ever. It is no surprise that Citroen have signed Meeke on a three-year deal that will see him stay with the French team until 2018.
This year, with a Citroen C3 that has been heavily invested in and a whole year of development behind it, Kris Meeke has his best ever chance at winning the WRC drivers’ championship. He has collected the necessary experience, has familiarity with the series with over 75 starts under his belt and with a new era to the sport not immediately identifying a dominant team or driver, this is his best shot at taking the title. With ten rallies still to come, three of which Meeke and Nagle have already taken wins in over the past two years, Meeke is a British motorsport figure to keep an eye on this year and in the near future. Although Meeke has made many mistakes in his WRC career to date, his dominance throughout Rally Mexico and his recovery from the bizarre detour in the final stage of Mexico could highlight a turning point in his career and put him on course to take his first WRC drivers’ title with the support of Citroen.